5.30.2020 Loudonville, OH
Race Description: Abridged course due to permit restrictions. Total Course: 66 MIles. 6,394’ Elevation Gain.
A Race Post-Corona Shutdown
No need to blabber on about how the COVID-quarantine life trounced all plans for race glory in 2020. Frankly, I have much to be thankful for with hours of riding, minimal expectations from the outside world, and an abundance of Nuun and AMP Lotion to keep me pursuing all sorts of random training adventures. Every cyclist, runner, triathlete, hiker, parent, small-business owner, government official, umm…everyone, had to swing wildly at the curveball a spikey-protein virus tossed at us. “Hey, batter, batter, sup-wing batta!”
The stubborn many, you know cyclists, took advantage, stayed race-ready, and waited for a start line to appear. Having raced the last race of the active calendar in March when Uncle Derrick, AKA Uncle Mental, shared that the Mohican 100 announced it would move forward, my head spun. Race the first open event post-COVID? Race again with Uncle Mental? In Ohio?!? Not possible. Well…possible. Not logistical. Well…logistics are malleable only by rationalization. I can rationalize. I can make sense of this ordeal. I must race. It’d be poetic…Hell, if I’m a racer, a racer’s gotta race. Plan mode activated.
The Race is the Easy Part
You hear: “Race 100 miles on a singlespeed in a state, on terrain, you’ve never ridden, with only 4 days notice.” You think: “Fat freaking chance.” I think: “Obviously. I can do that. But how the Hell does one get to Loudonville, Ohio?”
A veteran-spectator of the “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” trivia show, no map-hopping challenge can beguile my focused efforts. That tenacity, coupled with airline credits and an EVOC Travel Bag from Base Camp Cyclery, gave me the ability to click through to a small, Amish town in north-central Ohio. Derrick, the driving machine, could pivot his route to help out as needed and that became the lynchpin.
Grabbing an early, Friday morning flight from Denver to Indianapolis united the Team No Ride Around racers at noon. After a quick sandwich, we drove through Dorothy-whisking rain and wind to the race venue (4.5 hours later). Under COVID-restrictions the activities surrounding a typical race environment fell short of the high-energy hubbub us racers enjoy. No Race Expo, no bands, no food trucks. Before even leaving our car, we’d done a drive-thru campsite check-in, a drive-thru race packet pickup, and a drive-thru tour of a sleepy Loudonville town. As sun set on our campsite, surrounded by towering maple and oak trees, Derrick and I made final preparations on our drop-bags, bikes, and enjoyed a hobo dinner outside our tents. Sharing that moment of calm, after months of minimal socialization, with family, jettisoned any thoughts of COVID. Isn’t that what those weeks of quarantine taught us? In a world of running about, popping into stores, exchanging tickets for entertainment, and chasing the next to-do item, that when we lost the ability to blur our eyes with dazzle, the most fulfilling thing we can do is spend time with those close to us. Our 6’ COVID circle represented by that small list of those who we hold closest. Some cold pasta and chicken, at a camp table in the woods, filled by conversation about bike tires. I’ll take that circle.
Nothing Else Matters When the Gun Blasts
7 AM Saturday. Every minute, on the minute, 6 more racers will enter the course in a time-trial like start format. The OH State Health Department peered over the shoulder of race director, and NUE Series Director, Ryan O’Dell as he stood on a pencil-thin limb as the first director to greenlight a race in the COVID-era. If this thing works, if his policies hold up to health department scrutiny, he may very well save the 2020 cycling season.
Policies: Aid Stations will host only prepackaged, single-serving options. Volunteers will wear gloves and maintain 6’ distancing. No post-race, sponsored activity. Rider’s times will be recorded electronically based on actual start time.
Racers left the start line in 1-minute waves seeded according to past finishes or USAC rankings. I started at 7:02 in a small group featuring one other singlespeeder. Eli, yeah Captain Biceps from True Grit for those of you following, started at 7:01. My plan for this race was simple: win. Ego? Sure. Yes. Damn right! You better flex a bit of ego when you toe the starting line to a race you know nothing about, a course you couldn’t understand, and terrain wildly unique to the previous weekend spent in Moab, UT. All that puffing aside, when we crossed the start at 7:02 and true-to-form my heart rate instantly jumped to 83% of max, I noticed the other singlespeeder donned a Breck Epic jersey. Huh… Guess it’ll be a tight battle of hammers today then.
Simon, the Breck Epic rider, confirmed he’d completed the Epic on his SS the year before. He also confirmed that the course is what I’d assumed: a collection of short, intense, steep uphills followed by a similar descent…for the next 5 hours or so. He and I rode together until he dropped me on one such climb. Now alone I looked for a rhythm. In that search, I turned back and saw nothing but empty, green hills. Me, the bike, the gravel road, and a long day ahead of me. At least I get to clear my head alone and….what the?! Another singlespeeder, from behind me, just pulled alongside my bike. Really guys? Going to blow me out of the water all day, strip my Colorado-proud ability, take this win? I guess I wasn’t the only cooped up, hyper trained cyclist ready for the first opened race line! Dave. Nice to meet you guy. Oh, your running one gear bigger than me huh? Cool. Thanks for sharing. Oh, you’ve done this race before? Neat. Ah…you’re going to pedal off in front of me now and leave me licking my ill-prepared ego that was so confident just 45 minutes ago. Thanks man.
Geared Racers. They are the wind beneath the wings of us singlespeeders. We need them to race our best. You see, even at 120 rpm, our bikes are capped in top speed. However, if we can latch onto the pace of a geared racer we can push our bikes to speeds 3, 4, 6 miles-per-hour faster than we can alone. No sooner did Dave creep past me than did a group of geared riders follow. Clutching onto their rear wheels I found a pleasing speed and rhythm. And I recognized these guys. I know that kit. Both of them. Two of the geared racers in this group of 5 were the same 2 guys who pulled me in the 2019 Leadville 100 from Powerline to the Fish Hatchery! They damn well served as an express lane to my 2nd Place finish. I loved these guys and screamed my delight in seeing them now in Ohio! Reunited we all 3 laughed and joined in another epic race. My buds.
Up. Down. Sideways. Over moss-covered, well-quenched rocks, roots, and farmer’s irrigation systems. We all slipped and grunted our way through a racecourse that entered private farmland, gravel paths, paved roads, and a spaghetti-looking route through Ohio’s beautiful countryside. The mud challenged our handling and power. Can Derrick and I ever race on a dry course? One time maybe? After aid station 3 I found myself alone again. I’d left Dave and Simon behind. Eli still ahead somewhere. Just me and my gear again.
Lonely, I’m So Lonely…
What do you call an outgoing introvert, doing the thing he loves, alone in a new environment, performing well, but craving the sight of another person, much the same as he, to break the monotony of enjoying the solitude he so often seeks? A bike racer.
To be fair, I wasn’t alone. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, I didn’t share the course with a fellow racer but I did have some interaction. An interaction that would’ve made Ansel Adams furiously reloading his camera. Up and over rolling lush hills, over deep river valleys, across covered bridges I passed by horse and buggies driven by the local Amish community. Whizzing by at 20+ mph these quiet souls gave me a wave, a nod of the head, as they slowly led their own COVID-quarantined way of life. A way of life uninterrupted by the manic states of the hyper-connected. Did these guys, some young teenagers, envy my over-engineered race bike? Or did they silently, stoically, chuckle at this spandex-clad “racer” running to, or from, that which he couldn’t accurately identify? Deep thoughts for a singlespeeder. Probably too deep. Get back to racing. You’re losing it!
La Ruta friend, and formal National Champion, Chris Tries gave me one piece of advice for the Mohican 100: “Don’t be alone on the bike path. It goes on forever and you need to be in a paceline.” Turning left onto a path, yeah, that path, I again looked back and saw nothing. Alone on the bike path. Well played.
Over the next 7 miles, I tapped my bike computer’s screen, willing it to register accurately. No way I am only holding 12 mph. I snacked on gummies, played with hand positions, and changed pedal cadence many times, attempting to keep my engaged. This damn bike path. I can see the beauty in it and had I been on a cruiser bike, with Abbe at my side, it’d have been a nice late morning in Ohio. As a racecourse? Get me off this damn thing. Just as I drifted, for the 10th time, from “race mode” to “ride mode” and back, they came to my rescue.
The geared riders, Simon, Dave, and a new singlespeeder, Thad, picked me up and scooted me along that path at nearly twice the speed I was holding. Thanks guys! We exchanged pulls, chatted easily, and settled in for the rest of the path. Pulling into the final aid station, briefly swapping bottles and squirting chain lube on our solo cogs, we headed into the last section of the course as a pack. With a geared hammer helping us along we held a high pace up and down, up and down. The race had begun.
Dave said it first, “Hey guys, however this finishes up, its been great riding with you guys.” Agreed Dave…but I also came here to beat you. He started a minute behind me so I needed to break away at some point and gap him by a minute. Thad started 5 minutes behind me and I couldn’t see a way to make up that time, and even if I had the legs, he was pumping up these rolling hills so powerfully that I knew he had the win. There’s always someone stronger. Yeah, talking to you Ego. Simon had fallen off on a road segment and Eli still hadn’t been seen.
Thad and geared racer, Ryan Johnson, and I surged ahead. We caught and passed Eli just after riding over the swinging bridge. Yeah, a real Indiana Jones moment there too. Whoever built that bridge didn’t anticipate my 800mm RaceFace carbon handlebars to sneak by. Whew… We bridged, and passed, my geared LT100 friends and held pace. At a point I’d like to forget, Thad and Ryan dropped my ass. Alone again on a long stretch of paved road it was my LT100 buds who propelled my pace. Eventually, I couldn’t keep their wheels either and as I turned onto the main highway I finally recognized where I was! The campground lies just ahead! The end is near. Oh shit. I’ve gotta make up that time on Dave, Eli can’t catch me, and they are surely thinking the same. Hammer. Dropped.
Two Farm Kin Pursuing the MTB Life Together
Charging up the final gravel hill I dropped into the single track winding through the campground. Passing our campsite I relished that post-race moment when I’d sit down and reflect on this exact effort. GO! Knowing he was strong on the flat roads, but not knowing how strong, I looked back and there was Eli! I could see the glare. He was coming for me and I could feel the heat! Second, and final, hammer. Dropped. Either my legs would explode and he’d disappear, or he’d cross over me like roadkill. I knew I had the 1:00 gap on him but it mattered in the least. This was a race. Buh-bye Eli. Cruising through the finish line filled my heart. Racers gotta race.
Though the race venue lacked what Ryan told me was, “the biggest post-race expo you’ve seen. Come back next year!”, us racers may have ignored the direction of the officials. We chatted, smiled, and exchanged stories near the 6’ guidelines. We filled our race momento growlers with beer from a local brewery. We waited as our friends, or family, crossed the finish line. Watching Dave come flying in shortly after me had me incorrectly telling him he got second! After the battle, I was happy for him. He corrected me a minute later. I got second, he took third, with a separation of fewer than 30 seconds. Hell yeah! I came for 1 and definitely wanted 2 over 3. Thanks Dave. I silently cheered.
Derrick cruised through and I captured that wild beard stretched into a giant smile. Two farm kin chasing races across the country pursuing that which keeps us going. A challenge. A bond. And a competitive drive that needs nourishment.
Over a campfire, Derrick grilled steaks and roasted foil-wrapped potatoes. I encouraged him to drain my growler as I didn’t want the beer and couldn’t pack it full in my bike case. He obliged. NOTE: a growler is a lot of beer to take in on a dehydrated system. I chuckled at its results. We recanted our thoughts on the race, the beauty of Ohio, and the courage of the race director to get the ball rolling for us cyclists again. I repacked my bike and we prepped for another early morning. My 2 PM flight out of Chicago had us looking at a 6 AM departure from camp.
In the woods, in Loudonville, with countless camps enjoying the same post-effort calm as us, we closed the book on another No Ride Around race adventure. My NUE Series points got another bump and set the course for the rest of 2020. Derrick and I pursuing the NUE together. Pennsylvania. Wyoming. Michigan. Looks like a post-COVID-quarantine 2020 may just shake out.
Race Results: 2nd Place Singlespeed Open. 5:00:23